What is it?
The definitive version of the 2014 European Car of the Year, I’d say.
Peugeot’s just put its new Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic gearbox in its 308 family hatchback, in tandem with its excellent 1.2-litre e-THP three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
What results is a car that’s cheaper to buy than the equivalent diesel and quite a lot cheaper to insure; is within a couple of per cent of the economy diesel on company car tax, and also a 45mpg efficiency prospect in real-world running.
It’s also better mannered, more refined and easier to drive than the diesel, as well as being quicker, more flexible and much more engaging.
What’s it like?
Remarkably good. This version of the 308 in particular is testament to how much difference can be made to a car’s handling by taking away weight.
The 1.2 e-THP Puretech 130 engine weighs 25kg less than the old 1.6-litre VTi petrol it replaces – and it has an even bigger advantage over Peugeot’s diesel motors, you’d wager.
It also benefits from 30 per cent less internal friction than the VTi. In 128bhp tune it beats Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost triple on both power and torque, as well as even BMW’s 1.5-litre Mini Cooper three-pot on pulling power.
Put that kind of engine into almost any compact car and you’ll improve it. In the 308, you pretty well vindicate Peugeot’s whole dynamic philosophy.
Suddenly that tiddly steering wheel makes better sense, because cornering balance is improved and rate of roll notably reduced. In a heavier-engined 308 it’s all too easy to overwork the front contact patches at speed, flick the car into steady-state understeer, trigger the ESP and make the car’s cornering line unnecessarily untidy.
In this one, both steering response and outright lateral grip are higher – although steering feedback is still disappointingly lacking, making it hard to know exactly when you’re about to add that little bit too much lock.
Peugeot’s new six-speed automatic transmission is a multitalented unit, smooth shifting and intelligent in its timing in ‘D’, and fairly responsive and obedient in manual mode.
Hit the sport button and shift times sharpen slightly, while Peugeot augments the otherwise quiet motor with some artificial aural boost. I could have happily lived without the latter, but it’s not intrusive.
Meantime, the gearbox doesn’t struggle to downshift at high revs, lock up at lower crank speed, or generally do what you ask of it. It really only serves to make a great engine seem even better.
Should I buy one?
If your mind’s made up on a 308 and you’re a private motorist, this is definitely the one to have. Even for reasonably high-mileage fleet drivers it’s a compelling proposition.
The best powertrain in the range can do little about the car’s questionable ergonomics, poor second-row accommodation, mediocre residual values or lack of premium-brand cache, however.
Still, this is a very creditable effort from a French brand with big ambitions. It’s a pliant-riding, fluent-handling, handsome-looking hatchback with plenty of traditional Gallic character – but fewer of the failings that have blighted French cars in the past, and a genuinely commendable alternative to the outright class-leaders.
Peugeot 308 Allure 1.2 e-THP Puretech 130 auto
Price £20,795; 0-62mph 9.8sec; Top speed 124mph; Economy 54.3mpg; CO2 119g/km; Kerb weight 1150kg; Engine 3cyls, 1199cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 128bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 173lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-speed automatic
What is it?